I often play hide and seek with the kids around Manor Bottom, but the funny thing is that, sometimes, when they are at school, I go and hide somewhere by myself anyway. This obviously begs the question what I am hiding from: The pretend kids? Boris Johnson as PM? The impending climate crisis? Reality? Myself? Perhaps in part all of these but in truth, simply finding a great hiding place and, just, hiding there, even if only for a little while, is a wonderful thing to do.
So where do I hide? My favourite place is an ash tree that hangs on to the face of the old quarry. You have to climb down from the top of the quarry to get to its trunk. Then, from the base, it arches back up towards the sky. This forms a cradle that is perfect for lying in, and when the tree is in full foliage no-one sees you here. Another great place is between a maple and a cherry just by the gully that runs alongside the bridleway. From here you are invisible to the passers-by – they come within a couple of metres but have no inkling of your presence. I feel a certain guilt hiding here as I can hear every word of their conversation as they go by. I haven’t admitted that until now though.
Other forms of guilt often accompany hiding – shouldn’t I be doing something productive? And, yes, if the hiding is becoming too frequent then the hider probably should do something more productive. But once in a while it is ok to go hiding. Isn’t taking a holiday a form of hiding? And that is something we all need to do! (And you can all come and hide here at Manor Bottom anytime!)
But there are other feelings wrapped up in hiding, and seeking, too. Playing the game, I always feel on edge and lonely when I am the hider, being sought. And then there is always a sense of fear as the seekers, even though they are just my kids, draw near. There is also, for me anyway, a sense of joy and release when I am found, and we are all together again. Seeking too has its emotions, not least when you can’t find the hider(s). When the game has gone on too long and I haven’t found the kids, a panic arises in me, even though we’ve been here many times before and they were always ok. I end up shouting for them, giving up, asking them to come out. And they do always come out, happy and smiling, completely unaware of my irrational fears.
Well, occasional hiding is fun, and, I think, a good skill. The chances are that the day will come, especially if humanity carries on as it is, when hiding might be necessary. But for now, to keep the tone light, perhaps my love of hiding was instilled by this poem, studied at school when I was around 12 or so.
Hide and Seek by Vernon Scannell
Call out. Call loud: ‘I’m ready! Come and find me!’
The sacks in the toolshed smell like the seaside.
They’ll never find you in this salty dark,
But be careful that your feet aren’t sticking out.
Wiser not to risk another shout.
The floor is cold. They’ll probably be searching
The bushes near the swing. Whatever happens
You mustn’t sneeze when they come prowling in.
And here they are, whispering at the door;
You’ve never heard them sound so hushed before.
Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Stay dumb. Hide in your blindness.
They’re moving closer, someone stumbles, mutters;
Their words and laughter scuffle, and they’re gone.
But don’t come out just yet; they’ll try the lane
And then the greenhouse and back here again.
They must be thinking that you’re very clever,
Getting more puzzled as they search all over.
It seems a long time since they went away.
Your legs are stiff, the cold bites through your coat;
The dark damp smell of sand moves in your throat.
It’s time to let them know that you’re the winner.
Push off the sacks. Uncurl and stretch. That’s better!
Out of the shed and call to them: ‘I’ve won!
Here I am! Come and own up I’ve caught you!’
The darkening garden watches. Nothing stirs.
The bushes hold their breath; the sun is gone.
Yes, here you are. But where are they who sought you?